I’m very excited to sit here at my keyboard right now and write this first blog for this site. I’ve written my fair share of books, scientific papers, and even a little poetry (very little - <grin>), but this is a first, and I really like the idea. I’ve set off on this journey to speak publicly about RESPECT, a universal necessity, but one we don’t consider nearly enough in the everyday hustle and bustle. There are just so many ways that word, that feeling, that glue of agreement/cooperation/friendship/love...RESPECT…comes in to play in so many ways of our life.
I learned the word at a very young age. It was the cornerstone of my father’s life, and he made sure to impart the word and it’s intense meaning to me from the very start. One of the things I remember most growing up as a child was what I called, ‘the sit-downs’. They would occur randomly through my childhood…a Saturday night sitting on the front steps in Spring, hanging in the backyard after a baseball catch, or sitting around the dining room table on a Friday night, talking about religion, politics, sports, news of the day…anything really, but the one thing we always seemed to get back to, was the respect we had for each other’s opinion.
Years down the road when I was in college and I brought my roommate home for a weekend, he later told me how much he enjoyed the visit, the conversations, and how amazed he was that no matter what the subject, even the youngest sibling, Kate, at 10 years old, got a chance to weigh in with her thoughts…and everyone listened. I was taught right from the very start that everyone’s voice should be heard and that even if their thoughts didn’t fit with mine, I was to respect their position, as everyone’s perspective is different, and sometimes more right than my own. If I didn’t talk with them, sit down and exchange ideas, I would never learn about those different perspectives. This was one of the greatest gifts my Dad gave me…the love and respect of everyone was attained simply by listening and respecting the thoughts and skills of others.
There was yet another real-life lesson learned on this subject that occurred was I was just 10 years old. My Dad was working for company called Baldwin Locomotive, made famous for the train engines they built. Growing up in the middle-class, white suburbs of Philadelphia, I didn’t know many black people, and they were something of a mystery to me, sad but true. The only thing I did know was that for some reason, there was quite a divide between black and white folks, but I didn’t understand why at that age. But when I went to an Open House at Baldwin’s one time, I slipped away from my Dad long enough to explore the giant shop he was in charge of there. His shop was responsible for laying-out the giant steel plates used for building all kinds of things. Laying-out was the act of measuring and marking the steel for either a burner to shape the steel plate or for a welder to add more steel in certain places. I came across a much-older-than-my-Dad black man who was working that weekend day, his name was Sam, and he asked me who I was. I told him my name was Frank Monahan, and my Dad worked here too. He very suddenly softened, stood straight up, and motioned for me to come to the side of the steel he was standing. He showed me everything he was doing to mark up the steel and prepare it for further work. Then he crouched down and looked me right in the eyes. “Son, he said, your Father is my boss, and never forget this…he is one of the kindest and most respectful men I’ve ever met. I was a simple sweeper when I came to work here, but your father took the time to get to know me, to understand what I know and what I don’t know. He asked me to help him on a particular job one day, a problem spot, and I was able to help him. I thought that was the end of it, but no, your Dad put in for me to get a promotion, and now I’m a lay-out man just like the others. No one ever took the time to see what I could do, but your Dad did and I’m forever grateful.”
Well, as a 10-year old boy, this was truly a wonderful thing. A man I didn’t even know was telling me how great my Dad was, unsolicited…and it all came down to having simple respect for another human being, no matter what color, no matter what really. That man’s life was made better by a higher-wage job, but especially by someone who recognized something in him and gave him an opportunity no one else would. To say that was a major, major influencer of my life would be giving it short shrift. It is one of my starkest and most wonderful memories, and a lesson that has lived in me from that very day.
If you have picked up on my drift in this blog, the simple message is this…everyone needs to be listened to, everyone, young or old, black/white/green/purple, needs someone to hear them out, to respect another point of view on the chance it might show you a different way. Thanks, Dad…and thanks, Sam!